Why the Faculty Can’t Win

By

Leonard Zwelling

            I
have had many conversations with faculty members over the past two years
concerning their feelings of helplessness in the face of poor strategic
decisions by MD Anderson’s leadership. I have also had some conversations,
albeit far fewer, with the leadership team members. It is striking how both the
faculty and the administrative chiefs seem to want the same things: financial
stability, academic freedom, adherence to regulations and a collegial work environment,
yet seem to be miles apart in how to achieve these goals. Why should this
be—especially given that some of the administrative leadership team members
were academics themselves once?

            During
a lunch I had recently with a couple of investigators, it became a little bit
clearer what the problem is that divides the leadership from those they purport
to lead. The two groups are playing very different games.

            Despite
what they say about back biting in academia, academics are very poor fighters.
They hate confrontation, believe in fairness and expect everyone to follow the
same rules. They all think whatever they are doing is the most important
research or patient care in the world and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

            By
contrast, the administrative leadership views itself in a fiduciary role,
protecting the interests of the entire enterprise. In theory, they might
espouse to a more communitarian view of an academic institution having to weigh
the various individualistic and competing desires of the faculty by keeping the
good of the whole on the front burner.

            The
problem is that while each group thinks of itself in these fashions, they are
all full of crap. And I say that with the highest degree of respect.

            Academics
will tenaciously guard their territory like urine-marking wolves and define
“fair” as the 4 letter F word that really means “what I want and deserve”.

            Administrators
usually link their previously sublimated over-developed egos about their former
research or patient care exploits to a new relationship in which what is good
for the institution is good for them. It’s called narcissistic leadership and
we have at least two presidents, past and current, plagued with this disorder.

            This
all results in two teams playing different games. The faculty are playing
something like golf, in which only individual performance counts and in acting
like their performance is akin to a ballet, faculty members claim gentility in
an ever more vicious competitive atmosphere. That charade is called collegiality
which lasts about as long as competition for space, slots and money
intensifies. All of these resources appear to be in short supply right now
unless you are in the good graces of the President and his minions.

            Unfortunately
for the faculty on the links, the administration is playing football and they
will bowl you over with pulling guards (lawyers) and the refs in Austin in
their pockets.

            If
the academics wish to prevail and recreate the environment that was MD Anderson
before 1996, they had better throw away their knickers and strap on the
pads.  Like it or not, you are in a
gunfight and you haven’t even brought knives. Once the faculty realizes that it
holds all the cards for they and only they can generate the financial resources
needed to run this place, they will be on their way to victory. As long as they
are looking for help in sinking a 6 foot putt from a middle linebacker with no
teeth, they will be coming up short every time.

            Note
to faculty: put your clubs away. Football season is upon us.

Leonard Zwelling